Monday, February 29, 2016

Circle Time: The Best Time of Your Day or the Bain of Your Existence?!

"You is okay, Miss Cheryl.  You can play!"

Circle Time is one of my favorite times of the morning.  

I love hearing about the children’s adventures since we last saw each other (even if that was just yesterday!).

I love sharing new ideas and new materials.  

Sometimes I even have my blood pressure checked by a resident doctor! It’s an exciting time in preschool!

However, it was not always like that!  

Circle Time used to be the bain of MY existence.  

Figuring out how to get 16-24 children to focus on what I was saying was akin to herding kittens!

Circle Time is a common part of the preschool day and a traditional time spot in most preschool schedules.  It is meant to be a time of coming together as a group, or preschool family if you will, where learning and bonding happen. 

Unfortunately, with the pressures of trying to “get it all in” before kindergarten, many preschool programs have “morphed” preschool circle time into a version of the Kindergarten Morning Meeting with one ingredient missing:  Kindergarteners!  

In efforts to properly prepare preschoolers for Kindergarten, the expectations of preschoolers has been adapted to kindergarten expectations, but preschoolers are still preschoolers—not kindergarteners.

Unfortunately, for children it can be a time filled with boredom and frustration leading to disruptive behavior.  

This results in more frustration (for all involved) as they are corrected for sitting in the wrong spot, not looking where they should or not remembering and/or recalling what was just taught or discussed.

For teachers, it can be a frustrating and seemingly futile undertaking as stories are endlessly interrupted, multiple potty breaks are needed and, it seems, most of the time is spent redirecting children’s focus or rearranging carpet mats or squares.

Many early childhood teachers are instructed in college about all the wonderful opportunities we have to prepare children for Kindergarten through our preschool Circle Time. 

They are taught to take advantage of this window of opportunity each day where we have the children’s undivided attention as a group and use this time to teach the concepts they’ll need to know such as:

  • Calendar (including ordinal counting, “yesterday/today/tomorrow”, days of the week and months of the year)
  • Weather (including dressing the weather bear and therefore learning about seasons and dressing properly for each)
  • Letter recognition (letter of the week)
  • Number recognition (number of the week)
  • Shape & Color recognition (yup-with shape and/or color of the week)
  • Attention span/focus through reading a story

What they don’t teach is what to do when preschoolers act like….I don’t know…….preschoolers.

Many early childhood college classes focus so much on “preparing our children for kindergarten” that we begin treating them like kindergarteners and imposing kindergarten level expectations on their preschool levels of understanding and ability.

My mantra has become loud and clear:

We all need to remember that preparing preschoolers for Kindergarten involves giving them meaningful experiences withe time to explore, question and interact with the tools, materials and environment they are in now.  And that includes Circle Time!

Yes, they will have Morning Meeting in Kindergarten where they will be expected to sit in a large group and:

  • Respect their own space and that of others
  • Not poke the friend next to them
  • Listen to a 15 minute story
  • Focus on the person talking
  • Participate in Calendar, weather, and learning letters, spelling, numbers, addition and more.

This does not mean placing the expectations of mastering these skills on them now.  These areas take time to develop.  
In many preschool classrooms I have observed this type of Circle Time happening and it lasts 30-40 minutes! That is not learning.  That is conforming.  And frustrating.  And ineffective.  And, yes, it is like herding kittens.

Let's face it, we are spending most of that time trying to control their focus--which was lost about 18 minutes ago! 

Having effective and successful Circle Times happen by planning the activities that will be presentied in the same way as any other Interest Learning Center activity in the classroom is planned:  

Intentionally and with the abilities of the individual children in the classroom in mind.

Let's consider Tanagrams for a moment.  

The first time we introduce them, it might be at the Math or the Manipulatives/Game Center (or even at Circle Time).

We don’t expect the children to begin creating patterns & shapes and understand parts and wholes immediately after removing the tanagrams from the box.

We give the children time to explore the materials in ways that make sense to them: touching, stacking, sorting, spreading them across the table, etc.  

Once they have more experience with them, we introduce the pattern or shape cards.

It’s the same with Circle Time.  We should not start preschool with the expectation that they have the skills and experience to meet the end goals as listed above (focusing on a 15 minutes story, taking turns speaking, etc.).  We need to give them visual reminders, time, and hands-on ways to learn these things and continually do this throughout the year. 

For Storytime we can find ways to make the story intereactive.  We can provide story related props for the children to use and hold during the story, flannel pieces to add to the flannel board throughout the story or opportunities to act out the story as we read it.

To teach children how to focus on the person talking and take turns talking, we can provide a visual reminder such as a Conversation Rules Poster (click here for a free download of the poster)

We can also plan activities where they can practice this in shorter time periods rather than expecting the group to sit through loooonnnnng coversations and stay focused!  For example, ask a question (such as their favorite color, favorite character from the story you just read, etc.) and then roll a ball to one child to answer the question.  That child then rolls the ball to another child and he/she answers the questions.

When a child starts telling you their favorite color or character, now is when we can remind them about taking turns:  "Cheryl, it sounds like you want a turn answering the question!  Right now Billy has the ball so it is his turn.  One moment, your turn is coming!"

Getting Back to Circle Time!

Let’s get back to what preschool Circle Time was meant to be: A time to share experiences.  A time to connect and bond as a group and as a classroom community. 

Here are the Top 6 Do's for Circle Time:

1.       Time:  Do not make group time longer than preschoolers can handle! 

2.       Balance:  Provide a balance of active and passive activities throughout group time.

3.    Flexibility: Ditch the activity when you see you are “losing” them. 

4.    Intentionality: Treat Circle Time as an Interest Learning Center!  Know your goals for group time each day.  Plan for it as you would any other area of your weekly planning with hands-on,  developmentally appropriate activities and expectations.

5.   Preparedness: Have a plan! Be prepared!  Many times I see teachers gathering the supplies or book or items they’ll need for Circle Time after they’ve gathered the children.  Having them sit there for 5 minutes while you get ready……well, you’ve already lost them.

6.     BE:  Show up for Circle Time!  Be sure YOUR mind is focused on the children and not on the next activity, or tonight’s staff meeting, or chatting with a co-worker about the weekend plans.  The children will know if you want to be there…..and if you aren’t focused and excited about this group time, why would they be?

I’ve written a couple of articles about Circle Time that give more information that you might be interested in:

About the author
Cheryl Hatch has taught and directed preschool programs for over 20 years.  She is the Creator and Owner of Preschool Plan It, a website dedicated to sharing preschool themes, activities, articles and training with early childhood educators.  She volunteers as the coordinator and teacher of the MOPPETS program in her town (a preschool program for the M.O.P.S.--Mothers of Preschoolers Program).  She has her undergraduate degree in Early Childhood Education.  Cheryl has been an active, integral member and leader within the Teachers.Net Early Childhood community for many years, moderating live chats and providing peer support on the Preschool Teachers Chatboard.  You can read Cheryl’s articles, activities and themed preschool lesson plans at 


  1. I enjoyed your article. I'm going to check out your page. It would be nice to connect. The one thing I didn't see mentioned is music. Judging by the way you write, I'm pretty sure it is a part of your routine. Thanks for a good, concise article. Well done.
    I think you may enjoy the Facebook Page where I post daily brain facts. Here is a link :

  2. PS - I'm going to share your meme on my FB page. I like it a lot!


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